As Virginia’s surprising win unfolded Friday night in Boise, fans had plenty of time to unravel what they were seeing. First, they might have rubbed their eyes a few times to make sure what they were seeing was real but once some of the shock wore off, plenty of thoughts started racing.
And almost all of those thoughts searched for context.
First, there are the calculations.
The Cavaliers dominated the game in winning 42-23 and the margin shrunk late with the outcome already decided. The Broncos scored nine points late on a poor snap that led to a safety and a touchdown throw on the next drive against young defenders getting experience. Virginia won almost every statistical category, including rushing yards (167-30), turnover margin (1-0), penalty yards (3-23/9-64), sacks (4-1), and more.
Boise State hadn’t lost that bad since 2001 with UVA’s triumph Friday night marking the first double-digit loss for the Broncos at home in 16 years, a span of 103 games. It snapped a 24-game non-conference home winning streak too. They entered the contest with a 104-6 record at home since 2000. That all came from a Cavalier program that had lost 23 of its last 25 road games by an average of 14.9 points.
Then there are the comparisons.
The 19-point margin of victory on the road was the largest since a 33-6 win at NC State in 2012. It’s arguably one of the best wins on the road since a three-game streak against Miami (28-21), Maryland (31-13), and Florida State (14-13) in 2011 or perhaps since the Cavaliers closed down the Orange Bowl in Miami with a 48-0 romp in 2007.
Naturally, some of those picks come from the only two winning seasons in recent years as both the 2007 and 2011 teams made it to bowl games.
More importantly, perhaps, this victory seemed to carry a high satisfaction rating. This is probably the best Hoo football fans have felt about things since at least 2014 when that team won 30-13 against Miami to put a bowl game within reach before falling late to Virginia Tech in the finale. If not then, the calendar would have to turn back to 2011 to find similar enthusiasm.
Followed by some conclusions.
With the bye week now here after a short week to prep for the cross-country trip to Boise State, Virginia fans are counting and evaluating. This is the first time since 2007 that UVA has started a season 3-1. So fans are counting the number of wins before October, counting the number of wins that already surpassed last season’s total, and counting the number of wins needed to get to a bowl game (magic number is now three). Two of the next three games are at home against Duke and Boston College so the schedule is setting up for a potential run.
Is that counting chickens before they proverbially hatch? Possibly. After all, it was this stage of last season that Virginia started to build some momentum too. The Wahoos took down Central Michigan as home underdogs and followed it up with a streak-busting road win at Duke. Those back-to-back victories came on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 leading into a bye week on Oct. 8. After that, UVA lost its final seven games with five of those coming by double digits. Plus, that Indiana losing struggle came just two weeks ago.
That’s where the evaluating comes in. This looked, sounded, and felt different didn’t it?
The offensive line opened holes and paved the way for 167 rushing yards. After putting up 171 last week against Connecticut, it marked the first time in the Bronco Mendenhall era that UVA posted consecutive games with more than 150 yards rushing. Control at the line of scrimmage.
Andre Levrone and Olamide Zaccheaus sprinted past defenders for a 64-yard touchdown catch and a 56-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The first came on a deep ball that saw Levrone run through double coverage and haul the ball down in stride after Kurt Benkert threw it 50+ yards in the air. The second came on a jet sweep for Zaccheaus where he made a decisive cut through a hole. Speed to pull away for explosive scores.
Mendenhall spoke during the offseason about how the games sounded to him last season. He said you can close your eyes and listen for the certain way football should sound. He meant physical, pad-thumping sounds. The defense delivered a bunch of that Friday. Micah Kiser delivered some pops, Juan Thornhill broke up a pass attempt, Chris Peace and Andrew Brown leveled sacks and more. Mendenhall likely had his eyes closed and ears perked for some of the plays during the game.
And, finally, this road win felt different. It didn’t stop a string of 42 games with a turnover like the season opener against William & Mary, though in a sign of progress this marked the third time in four games the Hoos didn’t commit one. It didn’t end a losing streak of 17 games away from home like the victory at Duke did last season either. Both of those occasions carried a little sense of relief, sort of a ‘see we can do this’ vibe. Both were followed by let-down losses.
This victory didn’t seem to have any such exhale. Boise State pre-game show co-host Jeff Caves even noted that Virginia “didn’t even celebrate” and “acted like it was no bid deal” to dismantle Boise State at home despite all those sterling credentials on the blue turf.
UVA did give the showing significance, however, with Mendenhall calling it a great win for the program with momentum building and Micah Kiser calling it a program-defining win. Neither of those statements were about the micro level and counting toward bowl hopes, though. No, this was about the macro level.
The steady signs of progress are starting to appear more often. Ending the road streak and now road wins in back-to-back seasons. Ending the turnover streak. Ending a low-scoring run where the offense produced 20 points or less in six of eight games with consecutive outings of 38+ for the first time since the first three games of the 2004 season.
Ending bad reactions to bad moments – note how the team responded to Boise State’s opening drive that created a 7-0 hole or the hosts’ half-closing touchdown or the misfired snap that led to a safety. Each of those moments was followed by something like Mendenhall scolding his team at halftime or senior Levrone fiercely patting Dillon Reinkensmeyer on the pads in uplifting shake-it-off fashion.
All of that emerged halfway across the country with something the Hoos summed up in a simple way: a new standard. That phrase trickled across social media repeatedly in the aftermath of the victory. It’s similar to the way Tony Bennett’s basketball team embraced ‘turn-around year’ shirts early in his rebuilding process and while basketball and football are different animals when it comes to sustaining success, Friday night’s win might have provided a glimpse of what’s possible.
Back on Nov. 28, 2012, Virginia’s basketball team traveled to another time zone and waltzed out of Wisconsin with a 60-54 win. Prior to that night, the Badgers owned an 85-6 record at the Kohl Center in non-conference home games under coach Bo Ryan. While the turn-around year occurred the year prior with an NCAA Tournament trip and the 2012-2013 season ultimately ended with a run in the NIT, that night in Wisconsin was one of those ‘maybe we’ve got something here’ moments for fans of the program.
A similar football moment may have been born in Boise.